Penny Boswell speaks enough Italian to exchange pleasantries, but that is about it. Trips to the local markets in Vicenza, Italy, to practice the language rarely resulted in a smooth exchange of words.

Penny Boswell speaks enough Italian to exchange pleasantries, but that is about it. Trips to the local markets in Vicenza, Italy, to practice the language rarely resulted in a smooth exchange of words.

High schools in Europe do not have inter-school varsity competition, instead the athletes compete with clubs. Yet when Boswell, a 2010 Canal Winchester High School graduate, found the opportunity to run with the local club she discovered the language barrier suddenly wasn't so thick.

Boswell's family moved to Vicenza last November shortly after the cross country season ended for the Canal Winchester girls team following the Division I state championship. Her father, Robert Boswell, took a position with the Department of Defense and the family relocated to the United States Army Garrison in Vicenza. The base contains, amongst other things, a school and market for the families.

"I was upset when I found out we were moving because I was going into my senior year, and it was disappointing knowing that I had to leave my team and my friends and the community I knew so well," Boswell said. "So, I wasn't too excited about it."

Vicenza is a city with a metropolitan population around 115,000 that has a rich mix of history, culture and industry. Located in the northeastern part of the country, Vicenza is part of the Veneto region and about 35 miles inland from Venice.

Boswell earned enough credits at Canal Winchester that she did not have to take any classes at Vicenza High School, but she still opted to learn Italian. She needed a way to spend her free time and that included visiting places outside the base. Though Boswell enjoyed visiting different places and seeing the sights, something was missing. Boswell realized that she missed competing and decided to run for the school's track and field team.

She soon found out how different that was from competing at Canal Winchester. Coaches had to be full-time teachers at the high school, which was a problem because no teacher at Vicenza had coached track before, nor were any of the teachers former track athletes themselves. The coaches were basically chaperones in charge of watching the athletes but not training them.

"We'd always compete with the other four bases in Italy, and that was cool because I got to go to Naples," Boswell said. "But you would tend to see the same seven people in the same race at the different meets."

Boswell realized that training would have to be done on her own, without coaching or supervision or other benefits she had running for the Indians. Running with the local youth club alleviated some of the problem, but Boswell still needed the internal motivation.

Boswell eventually found that motivation. She won the 1,500 meters (4 minutes, 57.34 seconds) and 3,000 meters (10:49.38) at the Department of Defense Dependents Schools (DODDS) European Championships on May 29-30 in Russelsheim, Germany. Boswell's performance helped Vicenza, one of the smallest DODDS schools, finish 10th (25 points) behind champion Kaiserslautern (123).

"I felt like I did well because I had done a lot of the training by myself," Boswell said. "I ran about the times I was expecting to, but I was just excited that I could maintain my pace. And it showed that I could train myself and have that self-discipline, so that was big."

For her former teammates and coaches at Canal Winchester, Boswell's successes in Italy were no surprise. As a freshman at Canal Winchester, Boswell was 44th at the Division II regional cross country meet but did not qualify to state. By her senior year, she finished 13th at the Division I regional and 48th at state. Her time dropped from 20:51 as a freshman to 19:13 as a senior. In 2008 she helped the Indians to a sixth-place finish at state by finishing 18th.

"I remember when she was a freshman she had good endurance, but not much speed," Canal Winchester cross country and track assistant Jeff Kline said. "Sophomore year she came out and started running really well, and she had much better leg speed.

"She was invaluable to us. There's just no way we would've done as well without her."

Cross country and track coach John Bender was just as effusive in his praise of Boswell. The Indians won three MSL-Buckeye Division track titles with Boswell's aid.

"Everyone here just loves her," Bender said. "She's cheery and always supported the other girls. She's fun to be with and she's very optimistic as well."

Boswell's stay in Italy was a short but memorable one. She returned home in June to visit family and friends, and returns to the United States for college this fall. As a preferred walk-on, Boswell was invited to join the women's cross country and track and field teams at the University of South Carolina.

Boswell has memories of Italy for the sights, the people and the food. But the fondest of them all was running around Vicenza with the local club, breaking the language barrier one step at a time.

"At the track banquet, Penny wasn't there but Coach Bender announced that she won the two European titles and she got a great ovation," Kline said. "The thing I'm proudest of is that this was a challenge she had to tackle on her own, and she did that."